When Graeme Smith wasn’t amongst the 12 players who arrived for an optional practice on Tuesday ahead of the fourth Test which begins at Headingley on Thursday, the collective media eyebrow couldn’t help moving a little higher than where it had been.
Although optional means exactly that, most of us have been brought up on the standard South African sports work ethic which goes something like: Pain, sweat, blood = success, victory, glory. Actually it just leads to exhaustion, but that’s another story.
But times are clearly beginning to change because there was a consensus that welcomed Smith’s decision to have a rest. The pressure, the commitment (on and off the field), the disappointment of Trent Bridge…he really would be better off having a day watching DVDs in his hotel room and dozing.
What a ridiculous notion.
Smith was at the forefront of a delegation of South Africans traveling to the Reebok Stadium, home of Bolton Wanderers, a mere hour away from Leeds. The captain and his WP team mate and friend, Thami Tsolekile, spoke to the majority of the first team squad about their mental and physical preparation for big matches, what it feels like to face Manchester United and the best ways to cope with nerves.
Physiotherapist Shane Jabaar spent hours in the ‘back rooms’ comparing notes with the clubs squad of physios and masseurs while Eric Simons emerged after an hour behind closed doors in manager Sam Allardyce’s office with more than a couple of interesting ideas in the area of ‘people skills’.
For Smith, however, it was just another episode in his quest for knowledge. He has invited three former England captains to a meal or drinks on tour and there are more in his sights. But for now, Mike Brearley, David Gower and Michael Atherton make a decent trio from whom to learn. And now he can add Mark Fish.
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